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Power Morcellator Use Declines after FDA Warning

surgeons in the operating room with surgical tools

Use of power morcellators dropped significantly after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned they could spread cancer, according to a new study. Supporters of the devices said complication rates from traditional hysterectomies may rise if use of morcellators decreased, but the study found no increase in these figures.

Surgeons used power morcellators in minimally invasive surgeries such as hysterectomy and fibroid removal. The device enters the abdomen through small incisions instead of the larger cuts made in traditional surgical techniques. Once in the abdomen, the devices shred large masses of tissue for removal through the small incisions. This shortens recovery time.

But in 2014, the FDA warned that tissue shredded by morcellators could contain cancerous cells that may spread throughout the abdominal cavity. Spreading these cells upstages the cancer and makes it more difficult to treat. According to the FDA, 1 in 350 women may have hidden cancer and are at risk of having it spread by the device.

The new study looked at the rates of hysterectomies after the FDA issued its warning. Morcellator use went down, but the danger posed by the devices remains.

“As a result of the FDA guidance, the rate of minimally invasive hysterectomy has declined. However, there is still a risk of cancer in women who undergo morcellation,” lead researcher Dr. Jason Wright said. Wright is an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York.

Wright and colleagues collected data from more than 200,000 women who had hysterectomies and published their findings in the August issue of JAMA. Data showed doctors performed 14 percent of minimally invasive hysterectomies with morcellators in 2013. That number fell to just three percent in 2015.

The FDA first approved morcellators in the late 1990s. After the FDA warning, a number of women who said the device upstaged their cancer filed lawsuits against their makers. The biggest manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson’s Ethicon, pulled its devices from the market. Health insurance companies also stopped covering these procedures.

Not all Doctors Agree with FDA’s Warning

While morcellator use decreased overall, there are still doctors who support their use. Morcellator supporters advocate more vigilant cancer screening instead of removing the devices from the market.

“Although the worsening of an occult (hidden) malignancy as a result of power morcellation is, of course, tragic, we believe that an approach that combines deliberate patient selection criteria with robust informed consent will help protect women from a negative outcome, while maintaining access to morcellation for women who would benefit from it,” Dr. Hal Lawrence, ACOG Executive Vice President and CEO, said in a 2014 statement.

However, the JAMA study found that doctors who use morcellators are still no better at detecting hidden uterine cancer, the New York Times reported.

No Increase in Abdominal Surgery Complications

Doctors in favor of the devices also said complications from abdominal hysterectomies would rise without morcellator use.  The rate of abdominal hysterectomies rose to 31.8 percent from 27.1 percent, yet there was no rise in complications, the study found.

“Paradoxically, although the rate of abdominal hysterectomy increased, no change in the rate of major perioperative complications was found,” the authors wrote.

In fact, researchers found that the complication rate actually decreased over time.

“The big takeaway is that despite all the scrutiny women undergoing morcellation are still at risk for cancer,” Wright told the New York Times. “They need to be counseled about that risk and we need to think carefully about who undergoes surgery with power morcellation.”

Michelle Llamas, Senior Content Writer
Written By Michelle Llamas Senior Writer

Michelle Llamas has been writing articles and producing podcasts about drugs, medical devices and the FDA for nearly a decade. She focuses on various medical conditions, health policy, COVID-19, LGBTQ health, mental health and women’s health issues. Michelle collaborates with experts, including board-certified doctors, patients and advocates, to provide trusted health information to the public. Some of her qualifications include:

  • Member of American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) and former Engage Committee and Membership Committee member
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Health Literacy certificates
  • Original works published or cited in The Lancet, British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and the Journal for Palliative Medicine

2 Cited Research Articles writers follow rigorous sourcing guidelines and cite only trustworthy sources of information, including peer-reviewed journals, court records, academic organizations, highly regarded nonprofit organizations, government reports and interviews with qualified experts. Review our editorial policy to learn more about our process for producing accurate, current and balanced content.

  1. Reinberg, S. (2016, August 25). Use of cancer-linked device for hysterectomies declines after FDA warning. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from
  2. Levitz, Jennifer. (2016, August 23). No Rise Seen in Hysterectomy Complications After Morcellator Use Declines. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from
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